Monday, September 24, 2012

Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village

One's first reaction on arriving at the last active Shaker Village is "It's so small!" It's barely bigger than a lot of family farms, if that. But it's home to the last practicing members of the United Society; five Shakers and two novitiates. They conduct services in their 1794 Moses Johnson meeting house every Sunday in summer, and continue to welcome the world to their services. Winter services are held in a chapel in the dwelling across the road. According to our tour guide, services no longer include the dances and marches so long associated with Shakers, but consist of songs, readings from the Bible, and reactions to the readings and testimonials.

As you enter the parking lot you are greeted with a sign in front of what you later learn is the herb house that proclaims "PRIVATE beyond this point. Car Exit Only." Being the home of the remaining Shakers, there are few places the visitor can go without a tour guide. Our tour guide did an excellent job, however, and we did get to see several of the buildings.

The tour starts in the Boy's Shop, where young boys were taught trades. There are museum exhibits here as well. But again, no interior photos were allowed. There are more museum exhibits in the Spin Shop next door.

The tour took us into the meeting house, which looks nearly the same as the Hancock meeting house, plus we got to see the second floor living quarters that the ministry once occupied. It is furnished with appropriate Shaker antiques, but no photography was allowed. Our tour guide reminded me of that fact frequently, since I still had my camera with me. On the return walk we got to visit the sisters' shop while there was a lull in the day's work there.

The sisters' shop is home to the village's herb industry and the smells were delightful.

After the short tour I wandered around outside the quarantine area, first to the barns. They certainly say "Maine'" don't they?

From there I walked up to the road to get a shot of the dwelling. Always the smallest of the Shaker communities, it reached a peak of around 200 shortly after its founding in 1783. That number had dwindled to around 150 during the time before the Civil War when the Shaker movement was at its height. From that point there has been a steady decline, as in other Shaker communities.

Our visit concluded at the Trustees' Office, which today still operates a store. Here my wife bought a few "stocking stuffers" for Christmas, plus a couple of items for our granddaughter that won't wait until Christmas.

I can imagine the stresses to residents of having their home open to tourists, and the need to exercise control over movement on the site. The tour guides are volunteers, not Shakers, and the two we encountered were knowledgeable and courteous. One was borderline paranoid about the possibility of pictures being taken inside buildings. Since I don't agree with that policy, and photographs are a large part of my reason for visiting in the first place, I found that annoying. Perhaps she had just recently been taken to the whipping shed for not being diligent.


  1. What photos you got were amazing, and what a wonderful history lesson this series has been. It must have been an amazing trip for you all the same. Can't complain too much about Maine. Thanks for the effort. I love the little stocking stuffers they send out way to the Ann Lee sight.

  2. Thank you. This series wraps up on Wednesday with my assessment of the sites. It's been several years since we've been to either the South Union or Whitewater sites, so we're hoping for trips to them this coming year.